Arsenal will need to pull out all the stops this weekend as they aim to recover from their mid-week slump and maintain the pace with their title rivals.
Arsene Wenger reassured supporters that his side were fully focused on the game this weekend, as they aim to forget about the misery suffered at the Britannia Stadium in recent years.
Last season saw the Gunners walk away as 3-2 losers following another disappointing performance that unearthed the early signs they were not ready to win the title.
But with a side the started the weekend at the top of the Premier League, the boss has plenty of reasons to expect a strong performance against a Stoke team that are also growing in confidence.
Mark Hughes side are currently sat in a comfortable 7th place and have three wins in their last five league games, but The Potters are still trying to work out their best eleven.
It’s good news at last for the Gunners, as they look set to welcome back a number of high profile names to the selection proceedings before the end of January.
Alexis Sanchez will have had a scan to discover the level of risk of playing in this one, but Arsene Wenger admitted it could be a risk to use the 2014/15 Player of the Year.
Meanwhile, Tomas Rosicky is back in full training and will soon be available for selection after he’s picked up an Under-21 game.
The Gunners will also have the services of new signing Mohamed Elneny on offer, after the boss confirmed the £7million man was ready to compete in the Premier League.
But the best news of the week was that Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck had all reportedly returned to light training, and should be back within three weeks.
The Potters are on a real high at the moment and with the target being a top-half finish it is vital they can keep up appearances against some of the top sides.
Arsenal fans will be happy to see that former Inter Milan midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri will have to miss this one after picking up a tight hamstring problem.
Also hit on the injury list is Geoff Cameron who is still nursing an ankle injury, whilst Shay Given and Marc Muniesa won’t feature meaning Jack Butland will continue his remarkable form.
One To Watch
Arsenal – Olivier Giroud
After scoring a brace in mid-week the Gunners talisman is in the form of his life and will want to continue on from his 11 goals in as many previous games. His physical presence and aerial threat will be key to tackling a well set up Potters defence, and whilst he’s in this mood he’ll always be willing to have a go at goal.
Whilst he remains to be celebrated as a top level striker, the Frenchman continues to prove the pundits wrong and his ability to hold the ball up could be crucial. Both Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott are likely to start on the wings, so if he can act as the right sort of pivot point centrally in the air, we could see the flanks opening up.
Stoke City – Marko Arnautovic
Currently sat as the top goalscorer for Stoke, the intimidating midfielder is loving his football at the moment, and has shown real improvement under Mark Hughes. With seven goals to his name, Arnautovic can play on either wing at the moment but will love to challenge the defensive capabilities of Hector Bellerin. In terms of strength, this man has it all and will be trouble in the air as well as on the break.
If Arsenal are going to cope with the winger they’ll need to keep on his toes, as he can’t stand being outplayed and having to work hard to win the ball back. On the other hand, if and when Bellerin can get down the right hand side he and Walcott will have the pace. This wing could see a game-changing moment on Sunday afternoon.
Petr Cech will continue in goal despite conceding seven goals in the last two away games, and will be on high alert after Manchester City went top of the table yesterday.
In defence, a familiar set up will give Arsene Wenger reassurance or concern after they failed to finish the job on Wednesday night, gifting Liverpool an early lead that could have been won at half time. Nacho Monreal will keep his place at left-back despite persistent pressure from Kieran Gibbs, whilst Per Mertesacker could be a query after some shaky performances.
No more changes to be made in midfield despite the incoming Mohamed Elneny, who will be a risk to throw into a game like Stoke City after just two training days with the Gunners. However, Aaron Ramsey is flourishing in his new role after yet another goal against Liverpool this week.
Sat in front of them will be the in-form Joel Campbell who has looked remarkable in the previous week despite pressure from the imminent return of Alexis Sanchez. Theo Walcott will want to step up his game to ensure it isn’t him that gets dropped to the bench should the Chilean be in contention next weekend against Chelsea.
Up top is the Gunners top goalscorer for the season, Olivier Giroud, who is hoping to continue in his impressive performances recently and maintain his position.
Cech, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Ramsey, Campbell, Ozil, Walcott, Giroud
Their is no doubt who will be between the sticks for Stoke this weekend after Jack Butland has been tipped to challenge fellow England goalkeeper Joe Hart for the national place.
Glen Johnson is finding his feet since his summer move and will take control of the right full-back position, whilst Erik Pieters will be involved in an unchanged defence from the 3-1 win at Norwich.
No stranger to Gunners fans, the short tempered Ryan Shawcross will partner Phillipp Wollscheid at the heart of the back line, leaving Olivier Giroud with his work cut out.
Charlie Adam is a monumental attribute to this side and these are the types of games he is best suited to, because he is given one simple job and that’s to stop any attacks going through.
Stoke’s attacking trio is where most of the goals have come from this season and this is where the manager has room to play around, with Bojan, Jon Walters and Marko Arnautovic likely to play.
However, the likes of Peter Crouch, Ibrahim Afellay and Marko van Ginkel are all waiting in the wings to make an impact, but it’s recognised first choice striker Joselu that will get the call-up in the forward role.
Butland, Johnson, Shawcross, Wollscheid, Pieters, Adam, Whelan, Walters, Bojan, Arnautovic, Joselu
What are your predictions for this weekends game? Would you risk Elneny or Alexis? Let us know by commenting below!